Than Shwe

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Than Shwe (thän shwā), 1933–, Burmese soldier and military dictator of Myanmar. He joined the army in 1953, attended training school, and became a commissioned officer. In 1963 he was named an instructor in the ideological training school operated by the Burmese Socialist Program party, the nation's only political party. Rising in the army ranks, he became (1980) commander of an infantry division and (1983) head of a regional command. Promoted (1985) to major general, he was an important figure in the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC; since 1997 the State Peace and Development Council, SPDC), the umbrella organization of the military junta that seized control of the government after the resignation (1988) of Ne Win. Than Shwe was promoted to full general in 1990, and in 1992 he became chairman of SLORC (and thus leader of the ruling junta) and prime minister. After coming to power, he released a number of political prisoners and instituted several reforms, but none led to a more democratic government, and repression continued. He stepped down as prime minister in 2003 but continued as SPDC chairman and armed forces commander until Thein Sein's government took office in 2011. Than Shwe was nonetheless believed to remain very influential, reportedly as head of the extraconstitutional State Supreme Council.